Brits punish Lib Dems for coalition role

British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. AFP

Results from local elections in England point to a rockier future for Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government, with analysts predicting a more combative stance from the partnership’s Lib Dem junior partners.

The results also pointed to tough times ahead for the main opposition Labour Party, which took a beating in a regional election in Scotland, normally a heartland of its support.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) made big gains in the vote for a regional assembly, which could pave the way for a referendum on independence to end a 300-year union with England.

“We have taken a real knock last night and we will need to learn the lessons from what we heard on the doorstep,” a tired-looking Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told reporters.

“In those parts of the country.... where there are real anxieties about the deficit-reduction plans that we are having to put in place, we are clearly getting the brunt of the blame.”

The government has embarked on a programme of swingeing public spending cuts to rein in a record budget deficit. The Lib Dems’ poor showing has prompted some analysts to ask if the coalition could split and derail the austerity programme, although Lib Dem and Conservative ministers dismissed the idea.

The Lib Dems’ popularity has plummeted since they entered government with the centre-right Conservatives last year and created Britain’s first coalition since World War II.

A key concession won by the Lib Dems for entering the partnership was a referendum on Thursday on whether to change Britain’s voting system to give more clout to smaller parties, but opinion polls predict a resounding rejection of the move.

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